Ella Kruglyanskaya

Large Bather with Paper Cutouts


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Not on display
Ella Kruglyanskaya born 1978
Oil paint and oil stick on canvas
Support: 2134 x 1680 mm
Presented by Peter Dubens 2017


Large Bather with Paper Cutouts 2016 is a large-scale oil painting that depicts a piece of white paper on which a cartoon-like female figure is sketchily drawn in oil stick, over which brightly coloured areas of paint are applied to give the appearance of cut-out pieces of paper, adding depth to the composition. The overall effect is intended to create the illusion of a layered collage of paper, whereas in fact the entire image is made in oil paint and oil stick. The painted paper sheet is illusionistically framed by a painted border in a neutral colour. At top left, an area of green paint mimics a cut-out piece of paper which projects beyond the sheet of white ground into the border. The semi-clothed figure stands knee-deep in water, with her arms raised behind her head; her right side and breast are silhouetted by an area of purple and a smaller area of blue, accentuating her waist. Half her face is covered by her hair, but her gaze and pouting lips seem to engage with the viewer.

Large Bather with Paper Cutouts is one of a group of paintings that Latvian-born, New York-based artist Ella Kruglyanskaya made for her first one-person museum exhibition, held at Tate Liverpool from May to September 2016 and then touring to Tramway, Glasgow from October to December that year. In works such as this, which focus on the female figure, she foregrounds the pleasures, dramas, pitfalls and desires inherent in the act of looking, as well as engaging with the possibilities of painting in an image-saturated world and engaging with debates around contemporary figurative painting. In scenes that are often infused with humorous visual puns, tricks of the eye, or bawdy double meanings, she depicts women who are archetypes rather than portraits of real people. These female protagonists, engaged in gossip, leisure activities, theatrical encounters and conspiratorial actions, present a riposte to the long and contentious history of representing women in art history and visual culture. The artist has said:

I did not want to be a good woman artist. I wanted just to be a great painter … I arrived at my current practice by a method of elimination. I work from a negative. I was drawn to painting as such. It was hard to find my subject – something at stake for me … The women came from drawing from the imagination, not from life.
(Quoted in Gingeras 2015, p.8.)

Large Bather with Paper Cutouts continues the artist’s interest in representing and subverting the traditional art historical subject matter of the female bather, in an ongoing series begun in 2006 with smaller-scaled egg tempera on board paintings. Kruglyanskaya’s Bather paintings use the conceit of the beach as the ultimate stage for public performance and displays of conspicuous consumption; their near-vulgar excess heightened by sense of ironic distance from the subjects portrayed. The rich material world inhabited by her characters is rendered in a resolutely flat system of painting and drawing that captures in its shallow space a realm that is purposefully exuberant and fun to look at.

In Kruglyanskaya’s work exaggeration is engineered for the purposes of impact, rather than to pay homage to any particular visual vernacular, be it animation, film poster design, caricatures or graphic illustration – all of which are habitually referenced in discussions of her painting. Her fictional female figures are involved in dramatic social scenarios, high tension encounters and wryly humorous displays of conspicuous consumption. Their extravagant postures, complex clothing and emphatic presence suggest total complicity with the politics and ethics of looking. The artist has explained that: ‘I find great pleasure in the “perfect” image, which has a variety of ingredients that together add complexity to the experience of looking.’(Ella Kruglyanskaya in conversation with Alissa Bennet, in Studio Voltaire 2015, pp.199–211.)

In Large Bather with Paper Cutouts, as in many of her paintings, centre stage is given to the very act of drawing or painting, as well as the act of looking. The trompe l’oeil effect of the paper sheet and painted cut-outs, together with the energetic lines of the oil stick drawing, at once reinforce and challenge the fiction of two-dimensional representation. Drawing is the nucleus of Kruglyanskaya’s practice, as a way of thinking and as a trace of her process; she makes numerous drawings, although not as studies for painting but as a way of thinking through her ideas. She never erases in her drawings, refusing to revise a line drawn or mark made.

Kruglyanskaya cites a wide range of artistic influences in her work, turning her back on post-war American abstraction and looking instead to more historical, early modern sources such as the figurative painting of Félix Vallotton and Jean Hélion, Henri Matisse and indeed Pablo Picasso, particularly his use of materials and ceaseless capacity for change, German expressionism and the Weimar-era Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement, as well as the still lifes of Georges Braque, James Ensor and Balthus.

Further reading
Alison Gingeras, ‘Ella Kruglyanskaya: Women’s Studies’, in Ella Kruglyanskaya, exhibition catalogue, Studio Voltaire, London 2015, pp.7–10.
Ella Kruglyanskaya et al.,‘Ella Kruglyanskaya – 20 Questions: A Project by Matthew Higgs’, in Ella Kruglyanskaya, exhibition catalogue, Studio Voltaire, London 2015, pp.199–211.

Stephanie Straine
July 2016

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